All is not doom and gloom on the west end of Osage Beach.
That’s the word from at least three businesses that are surviving the roadway debacle in the Key Largo area and the opening of the expressway some 15 months ago.
Jennifer Dowdney of Blair & Co. Confectionery on Osage Beach Parkway and Jason Taylor of Evergreen, Mfg. on the expressway say their businesses are doing well. And Zach Hawkins and Aaron Toft of Molotoft Cocktails say they are doing well despite the Parkway dead-ending just a few hundred feet from their bar and restaurant. Their business is also near the Key Largo interchange.
The west end of Osage Beach Parkway — especially west of Route KK — has received a considerable amount of unfavorable publicity over the past several months after business and property owners began a campaign to draw attention to their economic plight. The owners say their businesses began to suffer a downturn in business after the expressway was opened, after thru-traffic on the Parkway was halted, and after Key Largo was closed, and then re-opened, in the wake of six traffic-related deaths.
There’s concern among some businesses that the adverse publicity will keep people away.
Reason for hope
Dowdney said that, as a rule, business at the specialty and candy store is doing well. December business was up over a year ago, and the store’s parking lot is full on weekends. She said it’s the same for most of the retail stores in The Landing on Main Street, an eclectic mix of shops between Route KK and Nichols Road.
While she agreed that it’s difficult for shoppers to get to the stores west of Route KK because of poor signage and the dead-end issue, she says those types of challenges “make you work harder and be smarter with your advertising dollars.”
Dowdney says several factors have helped her business, including effective advertising, raising awareness of her store and partnering with the Lake Regional Hospital Auxiliary to raise funds.
“But you still have to put your head down and work hard,” she said.
Dowdney’s family owns Blair & Co. Confectionery, Blair’s Landing and other shops in The Landing on Main Street. She said stores in the complex tend to feed off one another, and work together to keep customers informed about what is available.
“We’ve been in the business a long time and have always provided good service to our customers,” she said. “I believe that if you have a great business, people will find you.”
Her store is considered a destination business, and she keeps her merchandise fresh and contemporary. She also has a presence on the Internet that draws attention to her products and location.
She estimates that 25 percent of her customers are local residents who come in for specialty gifts or candy. The remaining 75 percent are second homeowners and weekenders who visit the lake regularly and know her store and The Landing through reputation and longevity.
“We as owners work in our store, and I think people like that. They come in and see us time and again and feel comfortable. People like to see and talk to the owner. I think it makes them feel special,” Dowdney said.
Her advice to other businesses?
•Change with the times
•Provide what customers want
Jason Taylor, whose store is directly accessible from the expressway not far from Key Largo, says he has sympathy for businesses impacted by the Key Largo confusion.
Taylor has expressed his thoughts about the Key Largo/west end issue at a couple of Osage Beach meetings. He agrees that the expressway has negatively affected some businesses.
But the new highway has actually done well for him.
“I’m only eight minutes from Horseshoe Bend Parkway now, and people can get here faster and easier,” he said.
While he admitted there is a “learning curve” as people adapt to the new highway infrastructure, he said most people now find it easier to get around.
“If people have a desire to get someplace, they’ll get there,” he offered.
A weak economy the last five years has impacted all businesses and, like Dowdney, Taylor has sharpened his business skills. He remodeled the front of Evergreen, Mfg., recently and brings in new merchandise every year to meet the needs of his customers.
“We have a following,” he said. “And I’m here every day interacting with my customers.”
One of the success stories of Osage Beach Parkway west of Rt. KK has been Molotoft Cocktails, which is close to the Key Largo intersection. Co-owners Aaron Toft and Zach Hawkins were opening the renovated bar/restaurant when the Key Largo/expressway project was opening.
“We’re doing great,” Hawkins said. “Sales are up from when we opened.”
Hawkins and Toft are on-scene owners, greeting customers and making them feel welcome. They have the same hands-on business philosophy of Dowdney and Taylor.
“We offer good food, good service and good prices,” Hawkins said. “We make people feel welcome and give them a good experience that makes them want to come back.”
For the first time, Molotoft Cocktails was on the Mardi Gras Pub Crawl tour Feb. 16, and the restaurant/bar had return customers the following day for breakfast.
“As long as we give our customers a good experience and atmosphere, they come back,” he said.
Molotoft Cocktails also has a designated non-smoking room, which customers seem to appreciate. A separate dining area is available for private parties, also plus business for their young establishment.